Facing eviction, homeless camp in Old Strathcona moves north

The residents of a homeless camp in Old Strathcona have defied a city ordinance to shut down, instead relocating their makeshift home two blocks north.

'This was our plan B for a while. And we do have plans C, D and E'

About 50 people reside in the camp in Old Strathcona. City officials have expressed safety concerns about the makeshift site. (Travis McEwan/CBC)

The residents of a homeless camp in Old Strathcona have defied a city ordinance to shut down, instead relocating their makeshift home two blocks north.

The Peace Camp was erected in Dr. Wilbert McIntyre Park about three weeks ago by people experiencing homelessness. 

The camp was set up to raise awareness about the need for supportive housing and a safe supply of drugs to prevent overdoses in the Old Strathcona area.

On Sunday, nine days after the city officially ordered the camp dismantled, residents of the camp moved north to Light Horse Park, a sliver of green space at the corner of 86th Avenue and 104th Street.  

Organizers had agreed to peacefully vacate McIntyre Park by 9 p.m. on Sept. 28.

Camp organizer Cameron Noyes said there are no plans to dismantle the new camp. He said the city needs to step up and find long-term housing for its residents.

"This was our plan B for a while. And we do have plans C, D and E and we're working on F," he said. 

"The city offered us a deal and the deal was not good enough." 

The Peace Camp was erected in Dr. Wilbert McIntyre Park about three weeks ago. On Sunday, the camp relocated two blocks north. (Scott Neufeld/CBC)

In a statement Monday afternoon, the city said it was disappointed in the decision to move the camp and not disband.

"The camp organizers' decision to relocate the camp 200 metres away, instead of closing the camp and accessing available space at shelters, is disappointing and not in the spirit of the commitment they made to the city," the city said in the statement. "The city will be exploring all options in response to this encampment."

The statement also said the city believes it fulfilled its obligations and trusted organizers would honour their commitment to remove the camp. The city noted that it supplied a list of shelters to those staying at the encampment.

An outbreak of COVID-19 at Hope Mission has further entrenched their desire to stay put, Noyes said. At least six people linked to Hope Mission's emergency shelter have tested positive, Alberta Health Services confirmed last week. 

"We really need to have some COVID testing on site before we can move anybody anywhere," he said. 

"And in our discussions, we just can't send people back to the Mill Creek Ravine or the river valley where they're more vulnerable. 

"When we have everybody together in one camp, they're much safer." 

Without the camp, Noyes said, more than 50 people would be forced into cramped temporary shelters across the city, or into scattered encampments in the river valley.

Frontline agency workers have visited the camp and offered assistance but temporary shelters are not a long-term housing solution, he said.

The city needs to do better, Noyes said.

"We still need the city to step up on several fronts. And housing is our first one," he said. 

"It's starting to get cold. And we really need housing for people. Just the organizations alone aren't good enough. And also the shelters where people would normally go are having real difficulty right now." 

Negotiations with the city have been ongoing for weeks.

The city initially issued an order to dismantle the camp on Sept. 17.

The ultimatum came on the same day Peace Camp organizers sent a list of demands to Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson. That deadline was extended after further discussions between camp organizers and city officials. 

The camp's demands include opening a new overnight shelter friendly to LGBTQ and Indigenous people that isn't run by a religious group, providing $10,000 to buy tents, food and first aid supplies for people who continue to sleep outside and the provision of housing and social services at the camp.

They are also calling on the city, and possibly the provincial and federal governments, to release a list of surplus buildings and their future intended purposes. 

The group also wants a supervised consumption site set up in Old Strathcona.

The organizers of the Old Strathcona camp are not connected to Camp Pekiwewin, a homeless encampment set up across from Re/Max Field in Rossdale on July 24 by frontline workers and Indigenous-led community organizers.